– when everyone would rather it didn’t.
Children need parents, when it would be much easier if they didn’t.
Children may have to think about their parents in ways nobody wants.
Parents may have to think about their children in new ways. Parents often worry about how to talk to their children about their illness.
Parents may want to protect children from the consequences of their illness; children may want to protect parents.
Each may also want to punish the other: parents may want to punish their children for not being affected enough: children may want to punish parents for the trouble the illness causes them.
Some parents try to push their children away in order to ‘spare’ them, or ‘so they don’t miss me when I’m gone’, or so they ‘remember me as I was when I was at my best, not now, ill.’ Children can feel this as a rejection and be very hurt and confused by it.
(It really is better to have been loved and lost than never to have been loved at all. If you have been loved by a parent when you were a child, later you can find someone else who will love you like your parent did – only better.) Children can be helped later to remember the healthy, lively parent even if they have seen the parent ill.
Parents may be able to protect children from doing too much, but they can’t protect them from caring. The child’s concern or care may be hidden beneath other feelings or behaviour, such as anger, resentment or indignation.
Children often try to hide their distress about a parent’s illness. They can be good at this, especially if neither parent really wants to know about it.
They often seem not to care enough: they may behave badly; and nobody knows if it is because of the illness or for some other reason. The children themselves don’t know.
Like adults, they may run away or pretend to be younger or more stupid than they really are, to avoid having to acknowledge their fears.
Children’s fears are even more likely than adult fears to be unrealistic and exaggerated. If they can discover these fears, parents are often amazed (and relieved) to find how easy it is to deal with them.
Sometimes the fears make the children cling in an irritating way. The parent may have very mixed feelings about this, both wanting and hating it.
Parents can feel guilty about relying on their children. They may try to minimise how much the children are doing. They may not realise that the children are worrying, and this takes time and energy